Trapped on remote planet Zaga-33 with a hostile alien population, there is only one way to escape.

The alien cortex must die.

(Please read the first chapter of this dark pilgrimage if you have not already done so.)

Level 6

I don’t have to die. Did you know that? I don’t have to die. All I have to do is stand still, stand still for a really long time. It’s not like I’m holding my breath until I pass out. As long as I accept that I will never see home again, I can live forever.

According to the Zaga-33 Zoology Handbook, these little shits are officially named “mawths”. I don’t know if that is supposed to sound like “maw”, “moth” or “mouth” and I haven’t come up with a pet name for them like I did for the squids. They don’t get a name, just a reaction. When I see these puppies, I get irritable and grumpy. You see, they have no interest in anything other than gnawing on your hide with their enormous teeth. (The mawth’s mouth is all molars, though, not a single canine. Makes for easier brushing, I suspect.)

A chamber full of mawths means I will definitely get my hands dirty here. This would be a fabulous place to have a bomb or laser handy; the predictability of the mawth makes it easy to take them out en masse. Otherwise, this is the kind of room which could rip through a chunk of inventory.

One of these bastards get their snappers around me while I’m luring a few of them into a trap, but after that I’m good. I break open the Xbox and hope it turns out to be something entertaining. It is the motherfucking bomb. No, really! It’s a bomb and I toast three of the sonzabitches!

I try to slip out quietly but screw up, painting myself into a corner with the last two mawths. I throw in another Xbox and turn them into bits.

I leave the room, feeling beaten and bruised, but alive. The next room can’t be as bad, surely.

Level 7

Ohhhh…kay. This really doesn’t look anything like awesome.

I’ve got a mawth a bit too close for comfort… and there’s a shogg nuzzling up to it for company. If I move right, the mawth will bite me. If I move down, I’m going to get cornered. If in doubt, use the option that doesn’t seem to be associated with anything bad like misogyny, racism or biting. That option, of course, is up.

Yeah, so, it’s actually another corner. The mawth and shogg pin me down and if I move right or down, the mawth will chomp me. So it’s move into damage or… take a chance. Perhaps it is time to try out another unknown artefact and pray that it turns out to be helpful. I activate the disc artefact.

I shit you not: the disc turns out to be a teleport and dumps me in the upper right portion of the chamber!

After picking up the healing artefact, I have to drill through a shogg to get to the exit; it costs me two wounds in melee combat, but at least I get out before the mawth tracks me down again.

Sayonara, suckers.

Level 8

There’s almost no avoiding a mawth. Unless I can put something between its gnashers and myself, violence is on the agenda. That mawth is going to be on my ass in the next turn, that much is certain. But look at all those other pieces in play, everything seems up in the air. Shoggs can be as determined as your average mawth if they notice you. I am going to see how things play out… pretty sure some hot bomb action will be required.

As I’m expecting to use an Xbox, I decide to loop back around the rock on my right and wade into the gang at the bottom, guarding the healing artefact. I’m going to take out as many of these guys out as I can.

I grab the artefact and then things get heavy. I’m slashed twice before I unleash the Xbox and wipe out the two shoggs and the guard. Surprisingly, the mawth has been kept at a distance by the fighting and has survived the fray.

The shoggs in the upper right part of the chamber have moved, creating an opening. I leg it and make it to the exit; the shoggs are not as belligerent as I was expecting. They even end up helping, blocking the pursuing mawth.

What a bizarre turn of events. So certain that I was going to end up fighting the mawth, I threw myself into a big fight… and ended up escaping the chamber without coming into contact with the mawth at all.

Ah, now… what is this curious plate of fire artefact?

Level 9

What the Hell? This is like the fourth room in a row where I’ve had an alien terror as neighbour. Evil alien cortex, you are so kind. So this squid is going to go for me right away. If in doubt, use mysterious alien technology, that’s my motto.

The fire on a plate turns out to be a drone! This is like yay and fuck at the same time; the hybrid bastard of those two is “yuck”. Drones are like great for clearing out a room, at least on the earlier, sparsely populated chambers of Zaga-33. They are, unfortunately, a fucking problem in a claustrophobic space.

The drone appears in the only vacant space adjacent to me. The space to my right. Between me and the squid. This is the opposite of awesome. The drone gets speared by the squid and does nothing for its first turn of life. And I’m right back where I started; the squid is in the same place and I am in the same place and the only thing that has happened is I made a drone and it got beat up. I can either use another artefact to wait out a turn or… move right and switch places with the drone. Instead of throwing away another artefact, I decide to take on the squid myself and use the drone for the rest of the chamber.

The next few turns are an ugly affair, full of killin’ and maimin’, and the drone eventually falls to a second squid. I am reduced to one health point and my vision goes red. If I’m not absolutely careful, this journey will be over soon. The alien cortex will be victorious. Here on this stupid rock. I’m sure it will be pleased with itself.

I sneak out round the bottom passageway, which avoids further conflict, pick up the health artefact and then I am gone.

Level 10

I am carrying six healing artefacts and there’s another one in front of me. Gosh, considering I’m at death’s door, I think it’s time I probably used one. But I’m an arsehole and decide to tough it out a bit longer.

Hmm. With two mawths ahead, I’m almost certain to use an Xbox here.

I grab the nearby healing artefact then head south – pretty soon I’m surrounded by a mawth and a shogg. If I screw up, this is life flashing before my eyes right here, goodbye cruel Zaga-33. If I let them take a swing at me, the resulting two wounds will kill me instantly.

Eat. My. Xbox.


Having dealt with my aggressive neighbours I turn my attentions northward. I don’t think I can get the other bomb artefact at the top without using some more toys – there’s still another mawth, two guards and two shoggs hungry for interloper meat.

I beeline it for the exit and cause no more fuss. Christ, I must be mad; I braved the chamber without using one of my seven healing artefacts.

Level 11

The good news is the mawth caves are behind me. The bad news is that we’re now in snarksville. The snarks are the creatures that look like Bart Simpson infected with alien zombie plague. Snarks are difficult to figure out. According to the Zaga-33 Zoology Handbook, snarks aim to bisect the distance between their prey and the exit. I’m not sure why the alien cortex thought that was a great idea but because of their odd behaviour, snarks tend to keep me off-balance.

Still, someone must be smiling upon me. There’s yet another heal artefact for the taking here. My backpack is just full of vitamin pills. I finally put an end to my ongoing masculine stupidity and admit I’m vulnerable… and heal.

Then I grab the shiny artefact in the centre of the chamber, getting into no trouble until I near the exit. Suddenly, I’ve got two snarks closing on me. It’s no longer possible to reach the exit without a fight. I’ve already used two artefacts on this room and I’m clean out of weapons of mass extermination.

I scrub out one of the snarks in hand-to-hand and take a wound for my troubles. It gives me the opening I need and I duck out the exit.

Level 12

Okay, there is no way I’m getting around that shogg without a fight. He doesn’t seem to have any eyes, but I’m sure he’s staring at me. Actually, he doesn’t have a penis either, but that sultry glare is giving off male vibes.

Honestly, it would be nice to have some offensive weapons in my arsenal, something that could claw the face off a dog at fifteen paces, but there’s nothing in my backpack but pills. You might wonder why I should act so scared. It’s because if I end up in threesome or even foursome with some of these beasts I could easily receive 6-12 wounds before the fight is done. Worse, if I don’t watch carefully I could end up dead when I thought I had one more turn to pop a pill.

Despite being convinced that Mr. Shogg was going to smack me around a bit, I manage to sneak around the top and only get hit once. It’s a miracle that I make it to the exit without further injury. Again, I stay at max health, although I think it was a prudent decision to give up the bomb.

I escape into the next room, again empty-handed when it comes to sharp, nasty artefacts to throw at these goons.

Level 13

I guess the planet didn’t think the last room had tried hard enough to kill me: “Look here’s a short corridor and there’s a locked door at the end of it. Actually, the door is a Shogg. And, well, instead of a key, there, uhhh… okay, you got me.”

So fight a-fucking ahoy. I have to move and there’s only one way to go. After I move, the Shogg will no doubt bite me. Bite me with its… dentures, I guess. I could use a heal instead but that seems a ridiculous expenditure just to possibly avoid two wounds.

Ding dong, the Shogg is dead. I go straight to the centre of the room and take the cross artefact. With creatures closing on me, I decide to activate it without delay. Yay, it’s a laser! It vaporises two snarks and a goblin. Not exactly an open level yet, but much better. I then hop over to the spiral artefact… and use it immediately too because the remaining snark is taking too much interest in me.

It’s the nuke! All of the aliens take one damage. Have at thee, snark! A quick jab and the snark is toast.

I escape without killing anything else.

Level 14

Oh my God, welcome to Fight Club. The Zaga-33 equivalent of a large studio flat, slightly over-populated with alien fiends. The best course of action is to run like the wind… I guess.

The snark nearest me is the most worrying, so I waggle up and down a bit, to see if I can shake him off. The ploy works; he loses interest and I make a break for it, grabbing the drone artefact.

It’s a good time to remember what snarks do. The closer I get to the exit, the more likely they’re going to get up in my shit. There are five snarks in the room… and I end up in brutal combat with each and every one.

Five dead snarks and two heals later, I am good to go. I slip out of the room, picking up a healing artefact on the way out. The other cretins in the room didn’t even realise I was here.

Level 15

I am pining for weapons. Christmas is coming, maybe Santa will bring me something?

I deploy a drone, because I don’t want to have to fight everything in this room myself. The dancing does not go well at all and I end up in a shitload of fights and am almost killed. I pop another one of my pills to get my strength back up.

I imagine I’m caked in green blood now, because I’ve killed four snarks, two shoggs, a guard and a goblin. Astute readers of this journal will note this means I have not killed everything.

The drone at the bottom just looks too tasty – even though it didn’t do a grand job of saving me from disaster in this room – and I end up getting scratched twice again just liberating the drone artefact. I wonder if it was all worth it.

I am not a happy camper.

Level 16

Oh sweet mother of fuck. Lasers.

Next Week: “If I had Zaga-33 nightmares, they would look something like this.”

Michael Brough’s procedurally-generated Zaga-33 can be downloaded free for the PC or purchased for the iPhone and iPad.

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6 thoughts on “The Alien Cortex Must Die, 2

  1. What is this alien cortex’s problem? Did you talk smack about its mother? Did you park your spaceship in a handicapped spot? Why does it hate you so much?

    The mawths crack me up. Something about the way they look. I know it’s not nice to laugh at someone’s appearance but I can’t help it. They’re hilarious. Probably less hilarious to you though, Harbour Master, on account of the being eaten by them and all.

    I agree, the alien cortex must die (but keep a mawth as a pet, like a ship’s cat). This narrative made my morning. Thank you. 🙂

  2. Where did you find the zoology handbook? I get the entries about goblin and the snark on the first page but I can never see any other one.

  3. @Steerpike: Funny you mention how you think the mawths look cute. I had never noticed, although when writing this series I realised the mawths may not actually have eyes. I think when you’re actually doing the playing you don’t tend to perceive them as so “benign” because your impression is defined by what they do to you. Or want to do to you.

    @Matt: The handbook is my own invention, with information deduced from the creatures’ reactions as well as the little-known “hint” system in Zaga-33 where you can get information on any square on the map. I can’t remember right now but I believe it’s right-click with the mouse; there may be something about it in the infodump at the start of the game. That’s how I know the mawths are called mawths.

  4. Ah. It was the official names of the monsters I was wondering about (also whether the game itself told you how they moved). And me without a right mouse button again!

  5. Shortform roguelike experiences seem tailor-made to your writing style, HM. I keep expecting you to die, like it’s some kind of action-packed adrenaline-rush rollercoaster thrillride helicopter.

  6. @BeamSplashX: I’ve been hankering after a project like The Aspiration for while. I haven’t written a game journal since. This isn’t in the same league as that series, of course, and some of the emotions and responses here are silicone-enhanced (they were absolutely not in The Aspiration).

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